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Computational Propaganda: 70+ Governments use Social Media to Manipulate Opinion

By Dick Weisinger

Social media is increasingly being manipulated as a tool for political propaganda. Evidence of manipulation of media in more than 70 different countries by at least one government agency or political party, according to research by the Oxford Internet Institute.

The report found that social media is used for controlling information with the goals of:

  • Suppressing human rights
  • Discrediting political opponents
  • Challenging and drowning out dissenting opinions

“The use of computational propaganda to shape public attitudes via social media has become mainstream, extending far beyond the actions of a few bad actors. In an information environment characterized by high volumes of information and limited levels of user attention and trust, the tools and techniques of computational propaganda are becoming a common – and arguably essential – part of digital campaigning and public diplomacy,” according to the research.

Zeynep Tufecki, researcher, said that “disinformation is a little bit like fat, sugar and salt – humans know it’s bad for them, but at the same time they want a little bit more of it. That’s what algorithms are designed to amplify.”

Philip Howard, director of the Oxford Internet Institute, said that “the manipulation of public opinion over social media remains a critical threat to democracy, as computational propaganda becomes a pervasive part of everyday life. Although propaganda has always been a part of politics, the wide-ranging scope of these campaigns raises critical concerns for modern democracy.”

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